Sacramento Republic has made a giant stride toward securing an MLS expansion franchise after landing a new lead investor with deep pockets.
Ron Burkle, the co-founder of private equity and venture capital firm Yucaipa Companies and whose net worth is $2 billion according to Forbes, has joined Sacramento Republic's ownership group, fulfilling the one glaring hole in the club's expansion application. In April 2015, MLS commissioner Don Garber indicated that it was "less about if, and more about when" Sacramento was granted a franchise. It sorted out its stadium situation, even breaking ground in July 2017 at The Railyards site secured for its privately funded $245 million, 20,000-seat MLS park, which was slated to be ready in time for the 2020 season.
“As the saying goes: actions speak louder than words,” Republic FC chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle said at the time. “In that spirit, Republic FC and the people of Sacramento are making our strongest statement to date with the start of MLS stadium construction at The Railyards. We believe in our fans, we believe in our stadium plan, and we believe in our destiny as an MLS city. I’m excited to reach this milestone, and know our team and our community are ready to work harder than ever to Bring it home.”
But hiccups along the way have made the prospect of being awarded an MLS franchise less of a sure thing, and the immense increase in expansion fees and operational costs over time forced Sacramento, which currently operates a team in the USL Championship, to seek new funds.
In Burkle, who also is part of the Pittsburgh Penguins ownership group, it has done just that.
"For more than a year, we have worked tirelessly alongside Mayor [Darrell] Steinberg to identify a new lead investor that further strengthens our bid to bring Major League Soccer to Sacramento," Nagle wrote in a statement. "While we held discussions with several potential investors, our focus was, and remains, on finding the right lead investor whose vision for our club and our city best aligns with ours. We are thrilled to announce today that we have found that new lead investor in Ron Burkle.
"Mr. Burkle is an exceptional leader and businessman, a champion sports owner, a dedicated philanthropist, and someone with a deep appreciation for Sacramento. He is the ideal person to lead the next chapter of our club. Thank you to our proud supporters for their commitment throughout this process. Though our work is not done and our ultimate goal has not been reached yet, I am confident that no club is better prepared for MLS than Sacramento Republic FC."
Now the question that remains is if Sacramento took too long in finding its whale. FC Cincinnati starts life as MLS's 24th team in 2019, and it will be followed by Nashville and Miami in 2020. The unexpected of addition of Austin (as opposed to Austin replacing Columbus) shrunk the number of available slots to one, and progress in other cities, namely St. Louis and Phoenix, could give MLS something to ponder as it mulls over the identity of its 28th franchise. Garber indicated prior to the 2018 MLS Cup that growth beyond 28 teams is a reasonable possibility, meaning that it's not necessarily do or die if the 28th bid doesn't go Sacramento's way. But after many months of being so close, the city will surely be hopeful that this latest development ticks the final box for the long-awaited MLS seal of approval.